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New Formats Threaten Microsoft's Way of Life

We read (and write) it all the time: Microsoft is behind the curve in developing for new technology formats. Redmond's smartphone operating system is an also-ran. Microsoft has no tablet strategy. Google, Apple and RIM are just killing the old dinosaur in those areas.

But so what? Microsoft is still raking in money, and there's still a Windows laptop on almost every...well, lap, we suppose, or desk. The company's server products are going like gangbusters, and even Dynamics is settling into a niche. No big deal, right? Tablets, trick-pony phones and all those toys can take a back seat to real technology.

Actually, that's what we'd like Microsoft to say: that it's going to focus on enterprise technologies, operating systems and the cloud for business and leave the more consumer-oriented stuff behind. But that's not Microsoft. That's not Steve Ballmer. The company wants to be everything to everybody, so it has some sort of presence in just about every technology market in existence.

But Microsoft's roots are still in the old-fashioned desktop OS, and that's becoming a bit of a problem as users increasingly turn to smartphones and (for reasons we still don't understand) tablets, and away from laptops and especially desktops. If Microsoft wants to be everything to everybody, it's going to need to pick up its game big time.

Early returns on Windows Phone 7 suggest that, despite some clever but confusing (are we not supposed to look at our phones?) advertising from Redmond, Android is just crushing. Microsoft's mobile OS. One UK retailer says that Android sales are outpacing those of WP7 at a rate of 15 to 1. Ouch.

But the news gets worse for Microsoft: Gartner recently cut its forecast for worldwide PC shipment growth in 2011, noting that the popularity of tablets is actually cutting into PC sales. And which tablet is the most popular of them all? Well, the iPad, of course. There's not a Windows machine to be found in the tablet market right now, at least not one that's garnering any serious interest.

The tablet thing is especially disturbing because it hits Microsoft right in the financial gut -- sales of Windows on PCs. And, frankly, we at RCPU really didn't see that coming. Everybody's talking tablets now, and not just for reading books on the subway. Businesses are increasingly adopting them, and they're buying iPads. Why? We're honestly not sure, but it's happening.

So, while Microsoft tries to please all of the people all of the time, it's letting Apple (of all companies -- seriously) make a dent in its core revenues. Maybe it's time for Microsoft to shift its focus from phones -- which have never been a massive moneymaker in Redmond, anyway -- to tablets. And it's definitely time for Microsoft to stop trying to win every technology contest and figure out which areas it needs to develop -- and protect -- in order to maintain its position at (sorry, near) the top of the technology heap.

What kind of interest do you have in tablet computers? Have your say at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 11/29/2010 at 1:23 PM


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Reader Comments:

Sun, Dec 5, 2010 80's Rocker

Don't count MS our of the tablet market yet. I think they have something under their sleeve's that they are just keep under the radar right now. And when they do release it I bet that it will use Silverlight and XNA Studios as the main programming languages, just like the WinPhone 7. Once they do that they will start to gain market back from Apples because there will be so many corporation who will have programs who can jump right in and start writing programs to make use of them. As far as WinPhone 7 go, everyone I have talked to who has one love it and they are recommending it to their friends. It is still missing some features to make it a true competitor of iOS and Android, but MS can catch up pretty quick with the resources they can throw at it. Apple and Google better just not go to sleep, content with the market share they have, otherwise they will wake up one day and MS will have a superior product.

Tue, Nov 30, 2010 Michael Michigan

The fact is, most of what we do on a computer, can be done on a tablet .. easier. I walk around with my iPhone making my grocery list (talking).I check my bank balance, I catch up on email and messages. I grab documents I worked on last night, review them and send them off. I connect to work and check how my servers are running and what programs are running. We are a mobile society. Not being tied to a desktop or needing the space to spread out a laptop, makes life easier. Physicians would rather use the tablet than push a Cow or come in with a laptop and try to find room to set it up. We are a very mobile society and this form factor fits the lifestyle.

Mon, Nov 29, 2010 Chris Charlotte, NC

I friend of my, a former MS manager, was trying out a proto-type laptop with Windows XP several years back. The concept was good, the OS actually worked like I expected to, and my employer at the time was looking forward to rolling them out to the field when they went live. The reality set in when the equipment, not the software could not hold up in a productive environment. Additionally, the cost of the equipment was not realistic for a company that would be replacing them at the rate of several hundred a year. It makes me wonder if the amazing numbers being tossed about are across a wide range of user base, or a very narrow range. For example, how well does the I-Pad hold up at a construction site with the dirt, dust and physical abuse it would be subject to? The same goes for any other workplace with lest them optimal clean conditions.

Mon, Nov 29, 2010 Mike Louisiana

I also wondered at the tablet craze until I used one for a while. Now I'm hooked. I'm posting this comment from my iPad. I still keep my Windows laptop handy but most of my casual browsing happens on the tablet.

Mon, Nov 29, 2010

I wouldnt author a novel on a tablet, but for most functions, the formfactor is alluring. A competitively priced and fully functional tablet pc vs. or in addition to a laptop? Sign me up. IPad sales seem to confirm that i am not alone

Mon, Nov 29, 2010

Isn't Windows 8 going to be tablet?

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